RESPONDblog: Is Jesus Birth Really Prophesied in the Old Testament?

god with usHappy 2015 – hope it’s a good one for you!

 

During the Christmas period, I heard this verse from Matthew’s Gospel being read during the Carol services I attended.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[a]
    which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23, NLT

 

This is Matthew quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who is thought to have lived in Israel’s Southern Kingdom of Judah 700 years prior to Matthew. The original passage from Isaiah says this:

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).  By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt[b] and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted. Isaiah 7:14-16, NLT

I wonder why Matthew took Isaiah’s ancient words…and understood them as pointing towards Jesus? Can we know for sure that this passage looks forward to the birth of Jesus as Matthew’s gospel affirms that it does?

 

Well – the historical setting of Isaiah’s original passage is an interesting one. Around 730 BC the Assyrian empire was expanding and threatening Israel. King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom Judah faced the might of the Assyrian Army – and he didn’t know what to do.

The prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz and prophesied that the Assyrian King, and eventually the conquered Northern Kingdom’s King, would not defeat him. Isaiah invited King Ahaz to ask God for a sign confirming this – but Ahaz refused.

In response – Isaiah declared that God himself would give King Ahaz a sign. A child would be born during Ahaz’s lifetime. A child that would still be living when the scary Kings of Assyria and Israel would finally be defeated.

 

So Isaiah is talking about a virgin conceiving a child. But in his day, that wasn’t the Mary we hear about in the Nativity. She wouldn’t be born for another 700 years. And the child that was conceived in Isaiah’s day wasn’t Jesus. Isaiah was originally referring to different people altogether. So the question is – why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s  prophecy and say that it pointed toward the birth of Jesus?

 

Well here’s the thing that the New Testament writers discovered. Jesus Christ is the key to understanding God’s work in the past…and his plans to rescue the human race in the future. To understand the meaning of the Old, you need to view it thru the lenses of the New.

 

Actually we see this happening throughout the New Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles, for example, the first Christian preachers spoke about Israel’s history and how it reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They quoted the Old Testament prophets and they pointed to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of their words.

For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honour at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”’ “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:34-36, NLT

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s work.

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” 2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT

 

So why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s prophecy to old King Ahaz when talking about the birth of Jesus? Yes – there was an immediate purpose behind Isaiah’s words that related to the onslaught of the Assyrian army. But God also held a bigger purpose back when Isaiah originally spoke those words to King Ahaz. The ultimate purpose of these words didn’t just benefit King Ahaz – but the whole human race. Over time, God was putting the pieces together that would finally lead to the birth of Jesus.

 

Here’s one final thought. Both Isaiah and Matthew make a point of naming that child as “God with us.” Now, fast forward now to the end of Matthew’s gospel. Do you know what the final words of Jesus are to his followers?

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20, NLT

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. Jesus literally is  – God with us. From start to finish.

As we all face a new year – how great would it be to have God in our corner? How great to start this year knowing that we have God’s resources and his encouragement each day. How can we know that God’s got our back in 2015? Thru Jesus – who wants to be God with you and me in 2015 and beyond!

RESPONDblogs: Maybe the First Christmas was More Stressful than Restful

the_nativity_story

I love the children’s nativity at our church – it’s one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. Tea towels have never looked more festive, shepherds have never looked more cute. It’s a time for our children to enjoy dressing up and retelling the tale of the baby born in a manger with a star overhead, and visitors coming from afar.

 

I love this.

 

And yet the actual events that are being acted out here by our kids were very different.

 

The Bible tells us that Shepherds came to see the baby in the manger.

 

“…the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the lord has told us about.’ They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” Luke 2:15-17, NLT

 

Well – first of all –Mary and Joseph found themselves without any lodging following a long duty trip to Bethlehem  – this sounds horrible. Could you imagine travelling for hours on a long haul flight in Economy, only to find on arriving that your accommodation had fallen thru and you had nowhere to sleep? This was Joseph’s situation with his pregnant wife.

Next – a manger was an eating trough for animals. The poor couple found themselves needing to borrow the livestock’s eating trough to use for the baby. How do you think the animals reacted to that? Don’t you think the livestock was going to be pushing and bumping them out of the way? Stuffing their heads in to the trough…licking and chewing what they could get hold of? What a nightmare. This doesn’t sound very “calm and bright”, does it? Actually to me it sounds pretty stressful!

 

And then – the shepherds arrive.  In Jewish culture, Shepherds were the lowest of the low. They were people who lived outside with animals; a solitary smelly existence. David Instone-Brewer says, “When the Jews asked whether a piece of bread had gotten too mouldy or was still edible… then they would ask…well would a Shepherd eat this? If the answer was NO…if not even the even the lowest of the low would touch it … then just throw it away!” Basically, Shepherds were stigmatized in Jewish culture. And Luke’s Gospel tells us that it was shepherds who came to visit the baby Jesus first.

 

How do you feel when a homeless person accosts you on the street? For myself – I wish I could say I was always welcoming, and always quick to offer help to that person. But I can’t. Why? Rightly or wrongly – it often makes me feel uncomfortable when a homeless person stops me on the street. I don’t know what to say to them – I find their plight difficult to look at – and on top of all of that, sometimes it has been some time since they had a good bath or shower!

 

Joseph and Mary had the 1st century equivalent of poor homeless visitors coming to see their new child. Not the most auspicious of guests.

 

The original Nativity was stressful for the people involved, it was uncomfortable for the family and it attracted the undesirables of Jewish society.

 

And then on top of all of this – Matthew’s gospel tells us that…

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of king Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’…They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.” Matthew 2:1+11, NLT

Now – surely – we finally get someone arriving to dignify the proceedings. At last – we get kings visiting the baby Jesus? Right?

Wrong. The arrival of these people was also an awkward encounter for the family to endure. Why? Because these wise men weren’t Jews. They came from far away pagan lands, people who studied the stars. The Greek word for the wise men (Magi) is the word we use to get our word “magician”. It is thought that these individuals came from the Old Testament Babylon.

There is a historical link between Israel and Babylon, we can see this in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  Daniel was a Jewish man who was taken to live in pagan Babylon where life was difficult for a Jew. There were many alien customs there, there was pressure to worship the Babylonian King as a God. And – there were magicians, astrologers and wise men living there.

The Magi who visited Jesus probably came from there …a pagan country…the enemy nation…evil Babylon.  A 1st century Jew would have been very suspicious at the arrival of such a Gentile person.

 

So – lets summarise our nativity so far. We have stress for the family, we have uncomfortable and difficult living conditions too, we have Jewish undesirables accosting them in the Stable. And now we also have the 1st century Jewish equivalent of “the enemy” coming to say hello to them.

You know – I love the carol “Silent Night” – but I do wonder whether the events surrounding the first Nativity were anything but quiet and restful! Stressful and uncomfortable sounds like a better description to me.

 

And this causes two thoughts to occur to me.

FIRST – if the Nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels are made up stories, if the Jesus birth narratives are fabrications, if they are just intended to make Jesus seem more important than he actually was…then I don’t buy it. I don’t agree with the thought that these Nativity accounts are made up. Because I really don’t think a 1st century Jew would have written a story like this. As David Instone-Brewer suggests, “This story is so crazy, it must be true!”.

If the author wanted to impress a Jewish audience with a fabricated account, Matthew’s Gospel would probably have had the local Jewish Leaders and the Priests coming to visit the Christ child. After all – Priests and Leaders  were the people that  1st century Jewish culture esteemed and respected. So to hold up Jesus birth as an important event…you would want him to be recognized by those sorts of people. Right? Instead – what we get in both Matthew and Luke’s Nativity account is the opposite. Jewish undesirables and suspicious pagans are the one who welcome Jesus Christ into the world. That’s crazy. What’s the point of saying that? There is no point…unless it is just simply a true historical account of what really happened on that first Nativity.

 

SECOND – the account of Jesus life is not an easy one. Jesus is not some ancient equivalent of a Marvel superhero from today. Jesus life was difficult and scandalized from the beginning. He faced misunderstanding and stigma all his life. He lived an ordinary and hard existence. Yet at the same time – he is the most extraordinary person who has ever lived. His earthly life was surrounded by suspicion. Yet in reality, he is also God in human form…God with us. God who created the Universe and he is worshipped and adored in heaven.

 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23, NLT

 

So it strikes me that – when our lives feel hard, when we suffer times of pain and suspicion. When we are numbered with the undesirables in society…Jesus is standing right along with us. He knows exactly how we feel because he has had it worse himself. And if that is the case – if Jesus is standing alongside you and I in our situation right now – then it means that no one has fallen too far. No one is a lost cause. No one is irredeemable for Jesus. In fact, Jesus Christ is an expert at rescuing lost causes.

 

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NLT

 

This Christmas – we might have misunderstood just how stressful and how uncomfortable the first Nativity was. But to Jesus – it really doesn’t matter. He experienced it all so that he could reach out to us in our loneliness and our brokenness and save us. That was his Father’s intention on that first Nativity. It’s still Jesus’ intention today. Why not let him reach you this Christmas?

 

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11, NLT

 

RESPONDblogs: Responding to the Voices of Relativism

the-challenge-of-relative-values

I can hear these voices in our society today…can you?

“No-one has the whole truth.”

That’s an interesting statement. Why do you think that? What is your moral basis for making the statement?

Further – do you believe that your statement IS ITSELF the whole truth? It certainly sounds like you believe it to be the whole truth. So unfortunately – your statement has just blown itself up! How can you claim that no one has the whole truth and then IMPOSE your own claim of the whole truth on us? I’m sorry – but you are contradicting yourself.

Truth is real…it is important…it is completely other. Truth is an absolute.

 

“All truth depends on your perspective.”

Interesting. That sounds like your perspective talking. If truth comes from our own individual perspective – then who are we to force our individual perspective on anyone else? Yet this is exactly what you are doing with this statement.

What I think is happening here is – you are actually claiming that all truth depends on YOUR perspective. Wow – really? You mean you are the font of all truth and all knowledge?

I believe truth comes from a person. Actually – I believe truth IS a person. But its not you…and it sure isn’t me!

 

“There are no such thing as Moral absolutes.”

Hang on a tick. There are some crossed wires here. The way truth works to the human brain is by way of absolutes. Everyone talks this way where truth is concerned.

What is an absolute? It is a self evident and unassailable fact. For example, Gloucester Cathedral is in Gloucester. This is a statement of absolute truth.

Coming back to your statement, on the one hand you are claiming that moral absolutes don’t exist. But in doing so, you are imposing a moral absolute on us. Do you hear the contradiction in that? When we use an absolute to attempt to disprove the existence of absolutes – we are in the realm of contradiction. It just doesn’t make sense.

 

“People should be allowed the freedom to do as they please, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

What is your definition of freedom? Actually – no one is “free” to do exactly as they please. For example, I am not free to pick a car in the nearest car park and drive home in it.

However, I do have the liberty to obey the law of the land. I am free to behave legally. In other words I have the opportunity to exercise my personal responsibility and to live within the boundaries set by society. Surely that is the freedom we actually enjoy?

WHERE something happens has never dictated the morality of that action. I have a friend who was once exposed to brutal, racist taunts by her boyfriend’s family. Now – is that family’s behavior any more right because it is happening behind closed doors rather than in the public spotlight? I don’t think so. Do you?

 

“Our Culture is DIVERSE. All Groups and subcultures and their ideas should be respected equally and without question.”

Personally, I think a diverse culture brings lots of positives with it. For example, we are encouraged to view the world around us from a different cultural perspective beyond our own. This is valuable and instructive to us.

Also – people of every culture are of incredible value. In fact, we cannot put a value on a single human life. Their value is off the charts!

Following from this – because people are valuable – surely we must stop and think. Do we really think it is right to accept each and every cultural idea and demand idea without question? Imagine if drug companies did that. Imagine if they imposed new drugs on the population without testing them out first. We would be up in arms about the injustice of it all! Yet this is exactly what your statement is suggesting we do with different ideas in our society.

But its only ideas we are talking about – right? Yes – but don’t ideas have implications? And don’t implications affect lives? And don’t people’s lives comprise a society? And isn’t society full of people of incredible value?

Your statement suggests that untested and untried cultural ideas should be shielded from scrutiny. And out of fear of being labelled as prejudiced against any subculture – we should just accept what they are doing, however harmful that behavior might be. I suggest that this is wrong.

I think that rather than just roll over and allow everything in – we should stand up and fight for the health of our society. Because the ideas that find their way in will affect the lives of our children and our children’s children.

 

“You’ve got your truth and I’ve got mine. Let’s just agree to disagree on the God question – right?”

But the way truth works is by dealing with absolutes. No-one really believes that only me and my truth is the only thing that actually matters at the end of the day. Because people end up forcing their truth on someone else. Truth deals in absolutes. So the question is – what absolutes are you thinking about when it comes to God? Are they credible? Are they testable?

Surely we must assess our view of God’s existence – or non-existence – based on the evidence rather than based on my feelings. Why? Because truth is true however I feel about it. If the policeman stops me and tells me I was driving at 50 in a 30 limit – and he shows the evidence from the speed camera – then I’m not going to like it. But he has unloaded truth on me none the less. My feelings have no bearing on the truthfulness of truth.

So – can we lay our feelings down? Can we dispassionately assess the evidence? Because the evidence points in a particular direction.

 

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:19-20, NLT

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Who Wrote the New Testament Gospels?

conspiracy

You will often hear the claim that the New Testament Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are not actually written by those people at all. Rather, they were written anonymously at some point late in the history of the early Church. And to give the books an air of authenticity and authority, they were given the names of central figures (like Matthew, for example) to pass them off as true. In other words – the Gospels are claimed to be forgeries.

 

Is this a reasonable claim?

I don’t think so. I think the New Testament Gospels were written by the people who they have traditionally been attributed to (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Let’s look at some of my evidence.

 

MARK:

There is compelling evidence from outside of the Bible that John Mark, who we meet in Acts, penned this Gospel.

Let’s look at what some of the early Church Fathers said of this account.

  • Justin Martyr (AD 150) described Mark’s Gospel as the “memoirs of Peter” (Peter was one of Jesus’ original inner circle and an Apostle). It is suggested that it was written while in Italy to encourage the Roman Christians.
  • Iraneus (AD 185) referred to John Mark as the Disciple and interpreter of Peter. This is in fact the relationship that we see playing out in the Acts account (although as we read it was quite a contentious and rocky relationship at times!)
  • Papias (AD 70 to AD 155) said “Mark wrote down accurately whatsoever [Peter] remembered. …he took special care not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”

And here’s a thought to ponder. If Mark’s Gospel was a forgery, why wasn’t it ascribed to Peter or one of the other Apostles? Surely if the aim was to pass it off as genuine…the scribe who falsely named the author would have chosen a top notch source. Instead – we see the author is John Mark – a well known but frankly minor character in the history of the Church.

 

LUKE:

Again, here we have a book claimed to be authored by an arguably minor character in church history. Luke the physician is not one of the direct eye witnesses to Jesus life and resurrection. He is a minor companion. He is certainly involved in the early Church, and we can see that from Paul’s letters (check Colossians 4:14, for example). But it would not make sense to ascribe a forgery to a minor individual.

Scholars compare the style of Luke’s writing and confirm that – just as both books claim –Lukes Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles were both written by the same person.

What we see in Luke’s writing is a mixture of eye witness reporting and direct personal testimony. For example, in Acts 16 we see a shift in the language being used. It stops talking about “they and them” and begins to use the terms “we and us”. In other words, Luke is saying…and I remember this part because I was part of this! Certainly much of the detail we read in these later chapters must have come from someone who was there and witnessed it themselves.

In summary, both Luke and Acts show evidence of early eye witness reporting and personal testimony from someone known to be in the right place and time to record both.

 

JOHN:

The disciple John is mentioned over 20 times by the other Gospels, and judging by some of the jealousy that went on, John was a central figure in the group of Jesus’ first disciples. But John’s Gospel never refers to the individual John directly. Instead it continually uses the term, “the disciple Jesus loved” to refer to that person. Why would the author do that? Well – perhaps he assumed that the audience he was writing to would know who he was. Perhaps he had learned some modesty in his old age?

Further – at the end of the Gospel, in chapter 21, we read “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.”

 

MATTHEW:

Matthew, like John, was one of Jesus original inner circle. Mark and Luke might have been minor characters in the events that unfolded. But John and Matthew were not.

Going outside of the Bible again to the church fathers, Origen (AD 185 to 254) says

“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned the tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism.”

 

 

I’ve briefly laid out some of the internal and external evidence supporting the authorship of the New Testament Gospels. But really I think the question comes down to this. Who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe the conspiracy theorists? Or are you going to trust the testimony of the early leaders of the Church who lived a few decades after the Gospels were written?

I for one – am going to trust the early church leaders. Surely that makes sense?

RESPONDblogs: Here’s one for the Walking Dead fans!

This is kinda fun.

Tho I’m not sure how I feel being compared to a zombie 🙂

But he makes an interesting point. Go for the head – disprove Christ’s Resurrection.

If you can’t then maybe there is something to this Christianity thing after all. So why waste your time trying to score intellectual points…in other words…chopping bits off?

http://www.becauseitstrue.com/blogarticles/disproving-christianity-is-like-killing-a-zombie

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RESPONDblogs: Interstellar and the Fingerprints of a Loving God

imax-poster-for-interstellar

Chris Nolan’s Interstellar raises a lot of important issues. The problem is – I feel we can only discuss them once you’ve seen the film. Why? Because I’m in danger of spoiling it for you if you haven’t. So – I’d recommend watching it first and then coming back to this blog.

 

Still here? Good – did you enjoy the movie? Personally I was a bit concerned about the long running time but as the final credits rolled, I realized that I had hardly noticed it. The story drove me along to the conclusion of the piece.

 

But I was struck by so many important themes during the picture.

  • How precious time is to us – once lost, it can never be regained.
  • Family is central to who we are – whether we view ourselves set against the backdrop of our day job, or compared to the vast mysteries of the Universe.
  • Don’t fear technology. It’s our companion. Unlike Kubrick’s 2001, we see the truth that the real problem is not technology – it is people. We are the real danger. (Thanks for pointing that one out, David!)

 

cooper and murph

I’m sure you can point to many more.

 

The theme grabbing me right now  tho  comes from a couple of specific plot points in the movie. We enter to a Planet Earth that ecologically is shutting down. The planet can no longer support life (presumably due to overpopulation, deforestation, pollution, etc).

Ten years prior to the start of the story, we learn that a Worm Hole has “randomly” appeared in our Solar System close to Saturn. Mankind has sent manned probes thru the wormhole and discovered the possibility of habitable planets on the other side.

In other words – a cosmic door way has appeared on our galactic doorstep. A doorway that lets us leave toxic Earth, and move towards a new future home for mankind. Our characters assume that “they” have placed the doorway there to help us save mankind. I don’t think we really learn who “they” are – it’s left as an open question at this point.

 

Interstellar-Trailer-3-01

Our hero Cooper goes on his journey thru the wormhole to begin colonization of the new planet – many dangers lie there as explore a new part of the Universe. Long story short – Cooper finds himself falling into a Black Hole on the far side of the Universe.

 interstellar.black_.hole_

And unexpectedly – this leads him into a strange experience. We aren’t sure at first whether this is simply his final moments before death. But Cooper suddenly finds himself in a place where he can view the life of his family – specifically his daughter Murph – as though he were flicking thru them like the pages of a book. He is able finally now to see the end from the beginning. He views moments of their past and their future laid out in front of him. And this gives Cooper perspective. Also, he is left wishing that he had made different decisions in his past life. But he feels he has information now that can help Murph in her future. He finds a way to make contact.

While in the midst of this dimensional construct, again we hear the assumption from the character – this is very convenient! Like the galactic doorway set in place ten years before as an escape hatch for humanity – this too must have been created by “them”. And we hear the character’s assumptions coming out at this point. “They” must be some future, higher evolved version of humanity. “They” must be setting all this up to rescue the human race.

 

What we seem to have here are two things going on here.

FIRST – helpful space time doorways unexpectedly appear in the right place at the right time.

SECOND – our characters reach towards these doorways to help them to fix the mistakes of the past, and also to help them find a better future.

 

And it’s here that I find myself on very familiar ground. Strip away all of the fantastic environments, CGI goodness and space-time relativity conundrums. Lay aside the science fiction trappings of the movie.

 

 

Who has not longed for our past mistakes to be fixed?

Who has not hoped for a brighter, more secure future for themselves and for those who they love?

 

Even though Cooper assumes that invisible people must be trying to help – I would suggest that the movie points elsewhere to the source of his help. Consistently Interstellar’s narritive portrays the human condition. People are weak, we are prone to acts of extreme selfishness. Even our heroes are imperfect and will twist and manipulate to get their own way. It’s just how we have always been. But there is hope.

Because there is One who knitted together the very fabric of our Universe. The One who can quite literally breathe life into the dead and give hope where there is none. It is interesting that in the movie the name of the mission to investigate other planets is Project Lazarus. Contrasting fiction with historical eyewitness account for a moment…John’s Gospel in the New Testament records that Jesus once raised a friend with that name back from the dead and gave him back to his family. Jesus is an expert at fixing what’s broken, giving hope to people who are devastated.

 

In a sense – Interstellar’s backdrop is one of a loving God who makes a way (in cosmic and fictional terms) to fix the past and secure the future. Is that just my perspective as a Christian? Perhaps. But it’s surely the most rational one – after all, people (however clever) did not ask to live in this universe. God carefully set the whole thing up with us in mind, and put us here in the first place. Whether Cooper or Murph recognize it or not, God’s fingerprints appear throughout the story. He is helping and guiding through the disasters and the heartbreaks.

 

I would suggest that whether you and I recognize it or not – God’s fingerprints appear throughout our personal story too.

 

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Psalm 36:5, NLT

 

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV

RESPONDblogs: Fresh Water for Africa + a Faith Upgrade for Us

water6

In the 13 years that Kingfisher has been visiting Africa, I have seen firsthand the devastation that dirty water wreaks on human life. Dirty water holds every manner of disease for those with no option but to drink it. The effect on human life is sobering. Suffering – hardship – sickness – death. On the other hand – I’ve also seen the joy and the health that flourishes when a fresh water supply is made available to a community of people.

 

This year at Kingfisher Church Network – we are investing in fresh water for African communities. We are investing in LIFE. We aimed at the target of helping 13 villages in Malawi and Mozambique to find their own fresh water supply. We smashed our target – so we will be able to help many more people than originally planned. This is so exciting. But you know – the background to this project is also interesting in itself.

 

Back in 2010 – the Kingfisher National Director for Malawi – Charles Mithowa – challenged us to think about how Kingfisher could enable fresh water supplies for various remote villages where a water well did not exist. The remote community of Mulanje – close to the border with Mozambique – was one such community crying out for fresh water.

 

In my naivety – I returned back to the UK with intentions to get water wells built for the folks in Mulanje. Did I have the first idea what was involved? Beyond digging a big hole and suddenly finding fresh water at the bottom? No. Not at all. I had no experience – no information – just a heart to help.

 

That heart to help led me to seek help from charities like Pump Aid and World Vision. Both of these organizations were incredibly helpful, spending time helping me understand the issues. The long and the short of it was this. They had a schedule for building water wells in Malawi. If I wanted to get on THEIR agenda – and contribute funds – I would be sure of helping many communities in Malawi. Unfortunately – the Mulanje community did not qualify. What a shame I had rashly promised fresh water to them!! Despite my disappointment – we contributed funds towards a Water Aid water pump for Malawi. Water Aid built the pumps – people in Malawi benefited. And I resigned myself to the fact that – we had failed in getting a water well built for our friends in Mulanje. Yet I made the decision to leave the problem in God’s capable hands.

 

That was a good decision because the story was not over. The end had not yet been written.

 

While I was wrestling with NGO’s and Charities…Charles Mithowa received word that his Malawian  Government was offering a practical training course in the creation of sustainable water purification systems for remote villages. The purification system uses easily accessible materials combined together in a particular way…and the Malawi Government teach key community leaders exactly how to build this purification system themsevles. As long as these leaders were willing to pay their way (in Africa – there is NO free lunch). Charles Mithowa – a wonderful and inspirational man – jumped at the chance.

 

He galvanized Kingfisher Church into action. Kingfisher Centre in Limbe allocated a field for Maize cultivation – they grew the crop, harvested it and sold it at market to raise funds. Once the funds were raised – Charles contacted the Malawi Government and informed them he could pay his way to learn how to build water purification systems.

 

Fast forward to summer 2012. We returned to Malawi. And Charles showed us how a bucket, a car battery, a filter, some sand and some chemicals could save people’s lives. I met folks whose lives had been changed by the use of this new water purification system in their villages.

 

At this point I realized that my weaknesses and my lack of knowledge and wisdom was no barrier to God’s wisdom and his plans being worked out. My limited capabilities are clear. But God’s unlimited resources make my  lack of resources insignificant. When he plans to change lives for good – it happens one way or another. The question is – will I get on HIS agenda.

 

Mulanje got fresh water – just not thru my little plan of digging them a water well. Instead today they use a filtration system that they look after and manage.

 

And the great news is that – Kingfisher Church in Malawi is working to share this basic but life changing technology to many many more villages across Malawi and Mozambique. We in Kingfisher Church UK have the privilege of contributing funds to help make it happen.

 

So where is the response to the spiritual skeptic in this blog? I think this time it might be a bit of insight into my own journey of faith…

 

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21, NIV

 

What impossible goal are we facing? What dreams are in our heart?  If He wants it to happen – He will bring it about. He is not limited by our lack of wisdom or resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He cares for the flowers in the fields and His eye is on the sparrow. But He has his own timeline and His own way of bringing things about.

 

The real question is – what about me? Am I getting past my own agenda, and aligning myself with His? This is the most sensible thing to do – because in the final analysis “it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Wouldn’t we rather be on the prevailing side, rather than on the side of our own little plans and missions in life? The things that are so important to me, yet they are here for a little while and then like an early morning mist…they are gone.

 

In my experience – in this Water project, but in many more situations besides, He is trustworthy. He is creative. And He will never let you down when you put your life in His hands.

 

Kingfisher Church is here – http://www.kingfisher.org.uk/

You can find Pump Aid here – http://www.pumpaid.org/

World Vision is here – http://www.worldvision.org.uk/

RESPONDblogs: Abortion – How Might God Feel About It?

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I was shocked yesterday to read an article published by the Independent Website, Independent Voices Page. Ann Furedi is making a case for a removal of all legislation around abortion. But her core reasoning for this change of legislation is shocking to me.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/abortion-is-safe-and-it-should-be-as-available-as-easily-as-contraception-9808803.html

 

Ann says, “Abortion should be recognized for what it is – a safe and necessary healthcare procedure that, usually, is no more complicated than many of the minor procedures carried out in general practice….Abortion is safe and it should be available as easily as contraception for women who need it….why have a law at all?”

Abortion has become safe for the mother – it is not safe for the unborn baby by definition. Why have a law? To protect the rights of the unborn baby – that is why. Do they not get a say in all of this? Do they not have any rights?

 

The response may come – the fetus does not have the same rights as the mother. Well – I think what the Bible reveals about God’s perspective may challenge our society’s perspective.

 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” Jeremiah 1:5, NIV

 

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:13-14, NIV

 

I’m sorry – but God loves the mother who is in a difficult position, the woman who has suffered unspeakable trauma and finds herself pregnant. And the mother who is caught short…and wishes she could wind the clock back a few days.

He also loves that developing person.

So the case that Ann Furedi is making seems SO contrary to God’s perspective on human life…it is breathtaking.

 

How should one respond? I think our response should be marked by two attitudes:

 

1 – Forthrightly Standing Up for the Voiceless One

God does not make a distinction between fetus and baby. All he sees is a conceived person.

And yet – I am a realist. I know the pressure on GPs today. And I know that the number of children aborted each year is climbing in the West. They are the silent suffering voiceless minority. This is the holocaust of our times.

It is important that the woman’s position is heard and understood. But that developing person has needs too. Clearly their physical needs are being provided by the woman carrying them – her body’s systems are nurturing them from conception onwards. But their right for respect and value needs to come from outside. From our society and the laws and the caring organisations that adhere to them.

Yet it’s not society that determines the value of anyone – whether it be a developing baby or a young woman. That job is God’s. And he stands up for these voiceless ones.  And I think he firmly calls followers of Jesus Christ to do the same.

 

2 – Showing God’s Grace and his Forgiveness Unconditionally to EVERYONE Involved

Perhaps we have seen the way that Abortion Clinics and their staff are sometimes persecuted by aggressive folks who seem to lack discernment or empathy for the people who work at the Clinic and visit there.

I think God’s heart for everyone involved was captured by Kathy Troccoli in a song she wrote called, “A Baby’s Prayer”. The song  cuts thru all the shouting, and all the raised emotions in the Abortion Debate. It gives a small voice to that voiceless invisible child whose future is to be cut cruelly short. It touches the heart of the God who created that child in the first place.

 

But if I should die, before I wake,

I pray her soul you’ll keep.

Forgive her Lord she doesn’t know,

That you gave life to me.

 

This is the heart of it. Life is a God given gift to each of us.  Let us do what we can to nurture and support each other through that life. Whether my life is just starting in the womb, or whether you already have some decades under your belt.

RESPONDblogs: Morality. Is it a GIFT or just the result of EVOLUTION?

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My kids have always had a keen sense of what is right and what is wrong.

As twin girls, they grew up together and they did so with little finely tuned radars that instantly detected when one of them was being treated unfairly. If Naomi was given a MacDonalds Happy Meal on Tuesday while Rebecca was at her swimming lesson, Rebecca made it quite clear to us that she expected to receive a Happy Meal herself at our earliest convenience. As I am sure you will understand – Christmas and Birthdays in our house have always been a delicate balancing act.

 

It’s not just my girls who are like this. We are all beings with an acute sense of what should be and what should not be. How many times have we flashed the other motorist and said something like…”He should NOT have cut me up like that!” Have you ever watched the news on TV and shaken your head, “How can people be so cruel to each other? The world ought not to be like this.”

 

Humanity’s clear sense of “ought” and “should” is called Morality. We are a moral species.  And – as far as we can tell – this marks us out from the other life forms on this planet.

 

So this brings me to my question. If the Atheists are right and there is no God…if our universe is simply the result of physical necessity and the working of the laws of physics…then where do objective Moral values come from? How did we evolve our finely tuned sense of right and fair vs wrong and unfair?

 

It seems to me that Atheism – and particularly the Material Naturalist worldview – has a problem. It wants us to believe that a non-moral first cause combined with a non-moral evolutionary process of chance and natural selection – has led to a moral species.  Us.

 

How can a non-moral process led to a moral result?

 

At which point the naturalist may smile and respond. “Your analogy of the driver that cut you up is the right one, Stuart. Morality is simply the result of millions of years of social convention and evolution. It’s the way that society has grown to regulate people’s behavior. This is vital for us – it promotes cooperation and it avoids society from breaking down. BUT – it does not require any God to exist. It has just happened over a long period of time. Morals come from within us.”

 

And I would answer – why? Why is it better for society for someone to cooperate and have their behavior regulated? Why is it better for society NOT to break down? The answer – survival of the fittest – right?

 

Yet this answer is not a good description of what is under pinning our morals in society. Why? Because it misrepresents us.

 

What do I mean?  Well a society that was truly built on the principle of “survival of the fittest” would have no time for the handicapped or the elderly or the sick. But this is not what I see today. An incredible amount of time and care is expended every day on our planet to care for people in this unfortunate position. I see it in the Western countries, and I also see it in the developing countries in Africa. The people doing the hard work of caring are to be applauded … they deserve a medal! Right?

Did you ever see the Science Fiction movie from the 1970’s – Logan’s Run? That was all about a society that killed its elderly as a matter of course. Elderly is classed as over 30 (I’d be long gone, myself!) The drama of the story comes from two characters – Logan and Jessica – who instinctively know this is wrong and decide to fight against it. And – as they approach the big 3 0 – they run away so that they will  not be killed themselves. This story resonates with us when we watch it because we know inside – it’s wrong to put old people down for the benefit of the young. It’s wrong in fiction as well as fact. A society built on survival of the fittest…or the youngest…or the better off…or the minority is inherently corrupt and evil.

 

Those who claim that evolutionary principles have led to human moral values – are simply not thinking thru the issue. They aren’t honestly going where their claims would ultimately take them to. Why? Because “survival of the fittest” leads us to Hitler’s final solution. Do you really sense that it’s right to go there? Because I don’t…and I can bet the majority of the people alive on our planet today agree with me.

 

No – I think that OBJECTIVE moral values exist. They don’t come from within us at all. They are given TO us. They are baked into us by the Baker. Morality is not about studying beneficial behaviours and copying them. No – morality is about studying behaviours and making an objective moral judgment on them!

 

Where does that objective standard come from?

 

Here’s what I think.

I believe that our hard wired sense of right and wrong – comes from the character of the God who made us and left his imprint on us. I think human morality is a signpost to the source. It’s like a stamp of authenticity from the manufacturer. Objective moral values point to our creator, who is described in these terms by the Bible.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

“…God is love.” 1 John 4:8